The South Side Secret


Chicago White Sox captain Paul Konerko appears to be as recognizable to baseball fans as Roger Waters is to One Direction fans.

As Derek Jeter conducts his farewell tour to pomp and fanfare, packing the stands in the home parks of traditional rivals like the …Houston Astros… Konerko plays out the string in the witness protection program that is his career in New Comiskey, or whatever global telecommunications Park we’re supposed to call it today*.

Frank Thomas dominated talk around the team in Konerko’s early years with the organization during the late-90s and early 2000s.

Amid his World Series-winning season of 2005, more attention focused on the Sox’s improbably successful staff and firebrand manager Ozzie Guillen than on the steady slugging first baseman/DH.

Konerko, 38, has been to six all-star games, has a World Series ring and an ALCS MVP award.

He’s hit 100-plus RBIs six times and blasted 30-plus homeruns seven times.

He took a team to a championship that hadn’t been there since the Wilson administration.

But events have conspired to relegate him to the back pages of history even as he continues to play — to South Side of Chicago fame rather than national fame.

Maybe Konerko’s vanilla. He’s been married to the same lady for a decade. His most notable off-field feat is being a Rhode Island native of some national stature.

He played in a particularly forgettable World Series sweep of the Astros on a team in one of baseball’s least talked-about divisions. It’s particularly unfortunate given that breaking the White Sox 88-year World Series drought would’ve been a bigger national story had a slightly shorter streak not been broken the year before amidst a northeastern media blizzard.

His team plays second fiddle in its own town, despite producing a far-better on-field product.

He’s lived in the shadows of great names who outlasted their on-field usefulness — Thomas, Jim Thome and Adam Dunn — and always been the one to carry his glove out to first while they waited for the DH spot to come up again.

Put Konerko on almost any other team — certainly any other big-market winner — and he’d be a rich man’s Mike Lowell. Andre Ethier with actualized talent. …Or Ryan Howard sans the massive hole in his swing.

His crowning achievement was a two-out go-ahead grand slam in the seventh inning of game two of the 2005 World Series. Mookie Wilson remains a household name for hitting an infield single in a series, Rick Ankiel for failing to throw a strike in an NLCS.

Konerko ranks somewhere lower than that in baseball’s collective conscious despite a performance that’s only a slight variation from the one you dreamed about in your backyard as a 7-year old.

To put a cherry on his plain vanilla sundae of a career, Konerko is spending his last season finding an at-bat here and there behind Jose Abreu, the White Sox’ white-hot Cuban defector first baseman.

Maybe the numbers will one day vindicate his memory to fans as a whole, but they probably won’t. Relative anonymity will probably be his life sentence, and those who did appreciate his production should give the old slugger a tip of the cap as he rides (pine) off into the sunset.

*Yes, that’s a link to Disco Demolition Night …a little Old Comiskey tribute.